Where are all the black ballet critics at the New York Times? Where are all the black critics for the classical arts at the New York Times? Why is Dance Magazine’s editorial staff six white women and one white man? Why are there no black professionals among the executive and senior editorial members on the mast head of Huffington Post? Where are the African American critics for classical arts at the Washington Post and The New Yorker?
These are all periodicals that have taken potshots at classical ballet or have allowed themselves to be the platforms from which others took potshots at ballet for being too white, too elitist, too expensive, too everything that anyone can complain about in order to get attention, to get readers, to get advertisers, to get a promotion, to get a meaty role.
Some have written that ballet classes, pointe shoes, summer intensive programs, etc. are just too expensive for a broad demographic spectrum of interested participants, and thus act as a barrier to entry to the professional ballet world. If that is so, then why don’t the equal or greater expenses for summer basketball camp, coaching, traveling around the country to participate in look/see events where college scholarships are awarded, act as a barrier to entry in the professional basketball ranks where more than 75% of the players are black?
A few weeks at a top notch summer basketball camp costs thousands of dollars. Trips to college camps cost money, too. And yet, these expenses don’t seem to represent a barrier that prevents inclusion of minority players in the professional ranks.
Is the perceived barrier in ballet really money or is it more a matter of cultural choices to spend that money on other things?
What are talented kids spending their money on - you know, the money that they earn from their paper routes, mowing lawns, weeding gardens, babysitting, standing behind a fast-food counter or menial jobs that teach kids how to show up on time and follow orders. Oh wait, these days fewer kids do that crap because they are now entitled to an allowance. (Pardon our insensitivity if anyone interpreted that as a micro-aggression.)
There seem to be a lot of people who proclaim demagogue-ish authority on demographics in ballet and like to complain generally and vaguely about all the perceived unfairness – because complaining about racial or economic inequality is the ultimate road to popularity in the media – but they don’t offer an explanation of what fairness is.
This is attributed to Teddy Roosevelt: Complaining about a problem without posing a solution is called whining. Why aren’t the complainers specifying exactly how many white, how many black, how many topaz skin colored dancers there should be in any given ballet company? What are the numbers and the grown-up statistical method for defining those numbers? Again, pardon any perceived micro-aggression.
If an individual artist or media personality or writer wants to complain that something isn’t fair, he should at least clarify what fairness is.
Now people are complaining about the lack of women choreographers represented in New York City Ballet’s season. But where are the names of the women ballet choreographers who they want? We’ve seen some dreadful stuff from both women and men choreographers who got their chances at ABT and NYCB. Does any devotee of ballet really want to see another effort by Azure Barton - anything that might remind them of One of Three that she did for ABT? Thank goodness we were spared the other Two of Three and Three of Three. Haglund would rather choke than ever sit through another Barton piece of choreography. The same goes for anything by Lauri Stallings whose Citizen for ABT made viewers want to revoke their own citizenship. Then there was Call Me Ben by Melissa Barak for NYCB…. Haglund simply isn’t ready to invest any more in trying to enjoy Emery LeCrone’s choreography. She has a long, long way to go before being ready for the big time. Have you seen Susan Jaffe’s choreography? Even if you haven’t, you have.
There are many other women and men choreographers, mostly working in the contemporary genre and who know nothing about ballet, who would probably love a chance to mount something screwy on NYCB or other major ballet company. But ballet shouldn’t be looking at modern dance choreographers to come up with its next big success. It should be looking for people within its art form, people who understand the art, appreciate its values, and have a perspective developed over time through participation.
Women are certainly made more aware of choreographic design through their indoctrination in the classical corps de ballet. Contrary to claims that they are taught to be silent, obedient little wind-up dolls, they are really more akin to a battalion of the most disciplined Marines - the guys who brag “We do the hard stuff right away; the impossible takes longer." Years spent striving to make every thumb precisely in place, eyes focused, unvaried breathing at attention, ready to sprint and sail on command and always, ALWAYS aware of the fellow soldier in pointe shoes next in line result in the discipline and craft that form the necessary platform for launching any ballet choreographic effort. They know it’s only perfect when everyone is perfect.
So where are the women who would make the next great ballet choreography? Most are still dancing in the corps de ballet – can you blame them? Even the most basic women’s corps job in ballet is a pretty fortunate gig that rates a high job satisfaction score unknown to workers who toil on the lines at Home Depot or UPS or at the Food Emporium cashier stations.
We're hearing complaining about white males mentoring white males and how that excludes women from potential success in ballet choreography. What female choreographers are being mentored by Twyla Tharp these days? Who is Susan Stroman mentoring these days? Just asking, not complaining. Inquiring minds want to know.
"Please turn off your cell phones and other electronic devices unless you are wearing a court-ordered electronic monitoring device on your ankle."
We wonder if the usual pre-curtain announcement at New York City Ballet was altered this evening for the criminally-indicted guest who got special permission from a judge to bust his 9PM curfew in order to attend Swan Lake with his wife and their children. If anyone at the performance noticed any buzzing vibrations close to the floor or blinking lights around a patron's pants cuffs shortly after 9PM, please report into the blog immediately.
Benjamin Wey, the CEO of New York Global Group who was recently indicted for securities fraud and money laundering and was fitted for his electronic ankle device earlier this month – and owes $18 million to a woman who he sexually harassed and then publicly trashed – was reportedly scheduled to attend NYCB's Swan Lake tonight. It's probably the last one he'll see for a while. One of the eight indictments carries a 25 year prison sentence.
Wey's lawyer pleaded for the special permission via a letter to the judge and said that Wey's wife had purchased the tickets "some time ago." Wey apparently hasn't paid a cent to his victim yet. For heaven's sake, he should have given the tickets to her.
Yuriko Kajiya has been chosen as one of Time Magazine's Next Generation Leaders. Watch this video and read the accompanying article in which Yuriko describes the obstacles that she had to overcome to achieve her level of dancing. Her account is refreshingly honest, as is her talent. The video includes a couple of snippets of her and Aaron Robison in Houston Ballet's Manon.
What or who is holding up the publication of the rest of the casting for ABT's fall season? The longer Haglund looks at a schedule that doesn't have the names Part and Abrera featured prominently, the less interested he becomes in the entire week and a half season.
And on the last date of ABT's season, David Hallberg will finally get himself back on some kind of a stage - elsewhere in the city. From the Performa 15 press release:
Italian artist Francesco Vezzoli in collaboration with American classical ballet dancer David Hallberg, principle dancer for the Bolshoi Ballet and American Ballet Theater, will launch Opening Night of Performa 15 on Sunday, November 1, 2015. Vezzoli and Hallberg will use the Renaissance as a point of departure for their commission to create choreography that reflects the origins of ballet in the 15th-century. The result of carefully researched material that begins with written text, Hallberg-Vezzoi will present Renaissance dance in its earliest form, bringing into question the powerful rituals of the courts, the importance of architecture in performance, and the roles of dancer and audience.
This doesn't actually say that Hallberg will be dancing, but it doesn't say that he won't be, either. Nevertheless, the evening sounds like it could turn into a heady affair.
Artists' efforts to intellectualize or politicize the art form and to assume an authority beyond what they can deliver to the stage can be so tiresome when all we want is to see them actually perform. "[B]ringing into question the powerful rituals of the courts" - please, just:
It appears that Zachary Catazaro has been replaced for his Siegfried debut in both Swan Lake performances at NYCB this week and next. Here's hoping that it's not anything serious.
Andrew Vyette will replace him in both performances.
It’s one of those things that we’ve been living with for a while – like a bad tooth that can still give a good chew. This streamlined Swan Lake conceived almost 20 years ago by Peter Martins after Petipa, Ivanov and Balanchine, is shaved to maximum efficiency for a time-sensitive city audience where two snaps of the fingers equals a New York minute. It relies on the viewer already having seen a full version of Swan Lake so that he can fill in the blanks with his imagination. Sometimes the action moves so quickly that one is left with a sense of jerkiness like that of an over-cranked old film from the 1930s.
The designs by Per Kirkeby include a striking curtain and backdrop that would be greatly appreciated if they were part of any number of abstract ballets in NYCB’s repertory. The stormy colored scrambled lattice design kind of reminded Haglund of the lattice that runs around the balcony tiers in the theater.
But Swan Lake is not supposed to be an abstract ballet. Its story should be clear from start to finish – in the designs and choreography. If a choreographer wants an abstract Swan Lake or an “inspired by” Swan Lake production, then he should give it another name. Don’t offend the artistic genius of Petipa and Ivanov.
All complaining aside, if one were to attend the performance with the simple expectation of seeing colorful, loosely connected divertissement danced brilliantly, then disappointment was impossible. Last night from curtain-up to curtain-down, all of the artists danced their hearts out.
This Swan Lake opened with some jaw-dropping allegro by Daniel Ulbricht’s Jester who reappeared throughout the evening to build on his happy feats with his sparkling feet and cannon-sized energy. While the Jester character can often seem an annoyance in a traditional Swan Lake, here the character was a key figure in helping to move the action along.
Erica Pereira, Brittany Pollack, and Antonio Carmena (Benno) impressed in the Pas de Trois with their vitality and bright dancing.
The strengths of our Prince Siegfried, Tyler Angle, were in his grand partnering and solo dancing. The mime and acting were less convincing than the clarity and power with which he dispensed his variations.
Sara Mearns as Odette/Odile had many fine moments in this hacked up choreography. It would have been nice to see her conclude the White Swan PdD with the traditional series of battement serré with slow finger pirouettes that finally succumb to a statement of profound sadness in a glorious penché arabesque – instead of simply walking off to the side of the stage with Siegfried. But no, that would have taken too long and there would have been 45 seconds of vocal gratitude from the audience that might have required an extra bow. Sometimes, great art just takes too long and it has to be hacked down to a manageable size – like hacking off the toes so the feet will fit into the shoes. Stiletto surgery for the ballet.
Emotion-filled from her first step, Sara revealed Odette's sorrow and tragedy with operatic desperation. Every step was as large as it could be, clearly performed, and intensely dramatic. Due to the speed with which this ballet whizzes by, there was little opportunity for modulation or any kind of gradual building of tension. It was all poured out on the stage where it pulled in the viewer with the force of ocean currents. While most Odettes tend to lower their eyes much of the time, the power of occasionally opening one’s eyes and soul to the fans in the cheap seats cannot be overestimated. Last night’s Odette was almost fully introspective.
Odile made a glorious entrance in her drop-dead gorgeous black tutu and stunning blond hair. Seductive, yes. Evil, nuh-uh. The evilness in Odile comes from the bold trickery in the choreography. Surprisingly, Odile had problems controlling some of the more traditional elements in this simplistic version of the Black Swan PdD. She lost her fouettes but then bravely restarted them only to lose them again. Surely others in the audience shared Haglund’s gratitude that Odile didn’t try to fool us with a bunch of single pirouettes as happened recently at ABT.
The Divertissement: Pas de Quatre was the highlight of the evening. How great it was to see the return of Megan Fairchild from On The Town and Ana Sophia Scheller from a long bout of injury who were joined by the sensational Tiler Peck and the only-gets-younger-and-better Joaquin De Luz. Talk about top flight principals coming together as a peerless corps! They were thrilling. “Exact" exemplified. Megan danced especially beautifully in her variation - so fresh, so effortlessly perfect. Ana appeared visibly grateful and relieved to be back and danced magnificently. Tiler gorgeously pulled the music in her variation. Joaquin’s internal gyroscope was working perfectly. Seeing such star power devour the stage at one time almost made Haglund want to end the night right there.
Rebecca Krohn and Amar Ramasar brought sizzle and sensuality to the Russian Dance. Rather than a divertissement, it seemed like a big central PdD in their own ballet.
Faye Arthurs, Gretchen Smith, Aaron Sanz, and Peter Walker smoldered in the character Spanish Dance.
And wow, Sara Adams and Allen Peiffer were the surprise of the evening in the Neapolitan Dance. We’ve been noticing Sara a lot in the past couple of seasons, but never saw her light up like she did in this choreography. Allen is a charming and engaging partner with handsome lines and youthful energy.
The Four Small Swans: Jacqueline Bologna, Baily Jones, Alexa Maxwell, and Claire Von Enck were perfect. Just perfect. Nothing left to say. Perfect.
So, in summary, Haglund still terribly dislikes the production but loved everything that the dancers did. He saw great dancing but little in the way of compelling theater.
The first HH Pump Bump of the fall season is bestowed upon Megan Fairchild and Ana Sophia Scheller on the happy occasion of their triumphant returns to the lineup. Bring it, ladies....
Toward the latter part of next week there will be lots of important debuts at New York City Ballet which many will not want to miss.
Pope Francis is debuting here, too, at the same time – not at NYCB, although one can never really be sure about those things. He'll be in Central Park and Harlem, and at the full UN General Assembly, St. Patrick's, Madison Square Garden, and the 9/11 Memorial.
There ain't nobody going nowhere in a car/taxi/Uber or on a bicycle or by bus in much of Manhattan for much of Thursday and Friday. Here's a small, small sampling of the street closures on Friday, which is the evening of Zachary Catazaro's debut as Prince Siegfried:
Beginning at approximately midnight the following streets in the vicinity of Central Park will be closed to vehicular traffic until approximately 7 p.m.:
• Central Park West between Columbus Circle and West 81st Street
• W 61st Street between Central Park West and Broadway
• W 62nd Street between Central Park West and Broadway
• W 63rd Street between Central Park West and Broadway
• W 64th Street between Central Park West and Broadway
• W 65th Street between Central Park West and Broadway
• W 66th Street between Central Park West and Broadway
• W 67th Street between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue
• W 68th Street between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue
• W 69th Street between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue
• W 70th Street between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue
• W 71st Street between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue
• W 72nd Street between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue
• W 73rd Street between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue
• W 74th Street between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue
• W 75th Street between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue
• W 76th Street between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue
• W 77th Street between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue
Beginning at approximately midnight the following streets in the vicinity of Madison Square Garden will be closed to vehicular traffic ntil approximately midnight:
• 31st Street from 7th Avenue to 9th Avenue
• 33rd Street from 7th Avenue to 9th Avenue
Read the entire NYPD press release here and make plans to walk most everywhere.
It seems that our Stella Abrera and Marcelo Gomes will be among the headers in the lineup for the DanceFAR 2015 cancer benefit at the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco on November 10th. TBA dancers from San Francisco Ballet, Smuin Ballet, Alonzo King LINES Ballet, Silicon Valley Ballet (formerly Ballet San Jose) and others will join the program. Tickets available here (after-party included).
On Thursday, October 1st, our Jennie Somogyi returns to the New York City Ballet lineup in Liebeslieder Walzer. In that same performance Ashley Laracey and Justin Peck will debut. The evening includes Tschaikovsky Suite No. 3 in which Megan Fairchild returns in Theme and Variations and Lauren King debuts in the Waltz section.
There may be much to like in the way of costumes for NYCB's Gala on September 30. Here is Adeam's Hanako Maeda's design for the new Robert Binet ballet:
This unitard is by Humberto Leon and Carol Lim for Justin Peck's new piece:
Meanwhile, David Hallberg has withdrawn from Ratmansky's Sleeping Beauty at Teatro alla Scala and will be replaced by Sergei Polunin who will dance opposite Svetlana Zakharova. Let's hope Ratmansky doesn't get any ideas about bringing either of those dancers to New York in the spring to dance in his Sleeping Beauty. What an insult that would be to all of our own brilliant, toiling dancers waiting in line for their much deserved chances. It's been a mere decade since Zakharova brought her boring, colorless Nikiya to the Met. Who can forget it? And who would want overblown Polunin partnering a ballerina without a comprehensive drug screening immediately prior to the performance?
Even though Hallberg is out of Sleeping Beauty, he's still scheduled to dance in La Scala's Manon opposite Osipova in November. Given the careless risks that Osipova can't seem to stop herself from taking on stage, it would seem very risky for Hallberg to sign on to dance the new role of Des Grieux with her as his first comeback after nearly two years of injury. If he ploughs ahead in this and injures himself in any way, it may be time to write him off.
Early Sunday morning Haglund climbed on his auld winged hoss and galloped down to Houston Ballet to witness our own Yuriko Kajiya’s debut as Manon, Prévost’s character as drawn by Sir Kenneth MacMillan, the great 20th Century choreographer.
While all Manons opt for luxury over the richness of love, it’s always interesting to observe whether the interpreter shows any hint of Manon questioning her choice. Over the years, Alessandra Ferri made us shudder at the cold ease with which her Manon wrapped herself in extravagance and turned her back on Des Grieux. Surely, we thought, our Yuriko – the fragile and forgiving Giselle, the one who turned the simple Prayer variation in Coppelia into born-again ballet – would not let her Manon stray far from the moral post without a second thought.
What moral post! At the first distraction of a wide band of bling, this Manon surprised us with her willingness to follow the scent of money. Yes, it’s true. Not even the Apollonian legs and divine charm of Aaron Robison’s Des Grieux, whose Act I pirouette poetically descended to bended knee via a slow, turning plié to reveal the depth of his devotion, were a match for the temptation of fur and diamonds that were soon dangled before Manon.
Through three acts of glorious PdD, tight and energetic ensemble dancing, and superb solos, Houston Ballet brought MacMillan’s masterpiece to vivid life. Every person on the stage was invested in his or her character, whether he or she had a name or was simply anonymously described as a harlot, townswoman, or beggar boy. While there was plenty of indication of the wealthy community's intolerance of the poor, MacMillan’s democratic values yielded some of the richest ensemble choreography for the poor and downtrodden. The beggars and the Beggar Chief, Christopher Gray, danced brilliantly. The harlots who arrived at the penal colony after being deported from France to America were cinematic in their suffering and desperation.
Brian Waldrep from the corps de ballet impressed in his debut as Lescaut. His character’s personality was young and oily and clearly cut from the same cloth as Manon. Sell whatever you have to sell in order to escape poverty - even if it’s your sister. He dispatched the choreography well except for a few early jitters and died dramatically center stage.
Katharine Precourt was a delicious Mistress to Lescaut, bold and saucy. James Gotesky as Monsieur G.M. was Koch-ish in his knowledge of the manipulative power of his wealth. Ian Casady as The Jailer was able to make the PdD with Manon and its climax brutal without too many literal details.
The ballet revolves around the major PdD for Manon and Des Grieux in all three acts with the rapture, the eroticism, and then the desperation all conveyed with daring and musicality that one swears is organic and could never be any other way. Yuriko cast as Manon was against type in much the same way that Antoinette Sibley was cast by MacMillan originally. The viewer could never be prepared for the amoral character that these artists would deliver. The eroticism coming from artists so strongly identified with pristine classicism would be disturbing in itself. But it is the strong classical fundamentals that freed Yuriko to think less about the steps and more about the character. Her first solo upon arriving had a sense of reserve and politeness that one would expect from a girl on her way to the convent as Manon was. Her final desperate steps in the swamp while being consumed by illness conveyed the shocking price being paid for a life filled with wrong choices. She was simply stunning every moment on stage.
Aaron Robison painted Des Grieux with huge brushstrokes that fused the drama and dance. This man’s legs are endless with an uncommon flexibility and purity of line. His jumps are magnificent. His partnering of Yuriko was sensational, particularly those parts that were meant to look like he was losing control. Throughout the three acts his gentle melancholy simmered, then steamed, then boiled over with passion, and finally imploded in grief over Manon’s lifeless body – a riveting performance.
Sunday's audience in the beautiful Brown Theater at the Wortham Theater Center which had started the afternoon a little bit sleepy was overcome with its own emotions at the conclusion. Having Manon and Des Grieux collapse at the foot of the stage brought the front center section of the orchestra to its feet about as fast as Haglund has ever seen. The ovation was truly deserved. Houstonians know real gold when they see it.
The H.H. Pump Award, trimmed in real gold, is bestowed upon Yuriko Kajiya and Aaron Robison for their rich-beyond-words debut performances of Manon and Des Grieux:
Angel Corella just dialed up the octane in Pennsylvania Ballet's tank.
Kyra Nichols and Charles Askegard will join the company as ballet masters beginning this fall announced Philly.com this morning. The composition of the PAB artistic staff is beginning to look like a Formula 1 racing team.
Askegard is set to move into Philly and looks at his role as a long term opportunity. Nichols is married to PAB's Executive Director and this appointment will increase her existing coaching presence in the company.
Haglund received his PAB subscription tickets in the mail yesterday and now he is especially excited about getting the season started with Concerto Barocco in October. And there is that Corella Don Q on the spring horizon. With the addition of firecracker soloist Nicolai Gorodiskii who nagged Corella for an audition until he relented last spring, this season is starting to shape up as something not to miss.
Get your tickets today; the Acela Ballet Train is boarding now!